Students often wonder how they can gain a band score in their IELTS speaking exam, especially at the higher band levels. Students with band scores of 7, for instance, are unsure of how to improve their English to achieve an 8 or more. Recent research, however, has shown that grammatical accuracyand rich and diverse vocabularyare the discriminating factors for IELTS examiners (Isaacs, Yu, & Chereau, 2015). This means the better your grammar and the more extensive your vocabulary is, the better you will do on the speaking test. Intonation and stress do not play as significant a role.
To move from a speaking band of 7 to an 8 then, certain grammatical features must appear along with the natural use of academic words suitable for the topic assigned. The IELTS rubric highlights the following for lexical and grammatical features of band 7 and 8 speakers:
8 uses a wide vocabulary resource readily and flexibly to convey precise meaning
uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skillfully, with occasional inaccuracies
7 uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics
uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary
shows an awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
8 uses a wide range of structures flexibly
produces a majority of error-free sentences with only very occasional inappropriacies
7 uses a range of complex structures with some flexibility
frequently produces error-free sentences, though some grammatical mistakes persist
To get an 8 in IELTS speaking, you will need to show a great deal of flexibility in both your vocabulary choice and your grammatical structures. This translates into the correct use of a wide rangeof words and structures. In terms of vocabulary, examiners will look at the level and variety of word choice and the suitability of the word for the context. For example, if you are talking about your ‘university education’, the term ‘post-secondary education’ can be used as well. In some instances – depending on your level of study - you can even use the term ‘graduate studies’. As far as grammatical features and variance, the greater the use of more difficult tenses and complex sentence structures, the higher your score will be. Simple sentences tend to appear mainly in speakers of level 4, 5, and 6. At levels 7 and especially 8, you need to show the examiner your range of capability. For example, in answer to the prompt ‘Are flowers important in your culture?’ an IELTS 7 band speaker might reply: Yes. Flowers are commonly used in our cultural celebrations, including religious ones. An IELTS 8 band speaker, however, might reply: Yes. Flowers feature dominantly in our cultural celebrations, particularly in ones related to our religion. Although the grammar in the latter is not any more difficult, the vocabulary choices are. It will be minor features such as these that will determine the difference between a 7 and an 8 band speaker.
To learn more about the most frequent topics found on the IELTS speaking exam, sign up for our course: The Inside Edge at www.ieltscourse.ca